Heart of Los Angeles hosts COVID-19 vaccination site

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — In an effort to help counter disparities in COVID-19 inoculations, Heart of Los Angeles, with support from the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation & Parks and in partnership with Kedren Health, hosted a vaccination site April 24, administering close to 1,000 vaccinations to MacArthur Park area residents and surrounding communities.

The event at the new Heart of Los Angeles Arts and Recreation Center in Lafayette Park was held to ensure equitable vaccine access to underserved communities. Kedren Health has been leading efforts to increase vaccine accessibility for underserved Black and brown communities across Los Angeles. Everyone 16 and older regardless of insurance or immigration status were eligible to receive a vaccine.

On hand for the event was Heart of Los Angeles CEO Tony Brown, state Sen Maria Elena Durazo, D-Los Angeles; Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles; Dr. Jerry P. Abraham of Kedren Health, and Karla Silva of the Mundo Maya Foundation. Sara Mijares Del-Fium, a volunteer, served as the event’s emcee.

“Nearly a year ago, I watched as this community had the highest cases of COVID and the highest deaths from COVID,” said Brown, who volunteered the site for the vaccine clinic. “I remember council members imploring people to stay safe. The pandemic has touched all of our lives.

The [Heart of Los Angeles] community continues to feel a terrible impact, but today, with Kedren Health and the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, we are just so grateful to be able to get vaccines in the arms of a community and our members who need it the most.”

Brown implored those that were in attendance to tell their friends and family about the experience they received while getting their first vaccine shots.

“Get your vaccine and then spread the word to your neighbors,” Brown said. “Tell them it’s OK to get the vaccine. Tell them you had an experience here today that made it possible for you to go back into life feeling much stronger about who you are.”

Emiliano Garcia, 21, who works at a convalescent home, said he came to get vaccinated “because I kind of needed to.”

“My feeling is that everyone needs to get vaccinated,” Garcia said. “I trust the vaccine. I’m not scared. I’d be a guinea pig if I needed to be because this is important.”

Dr. Abraham, the director of Kedren vaccines in South Los Angeles, advocated for the underserved community. He got the vaccines and provided clinical support.

“We did what we do best,” Abraham said. “To achieve health equity, we picked up the phone and demanded, ‘where are our vaccines?’ That’s how we got the vaccines that are going into the arms of Los Angeles today. That is the race.

“The race against time, not a moment to lose, not a drop to waste. That is the race we’re in as we work to overcome all the health disparities that our communities face, including the rollout of this vaccine.”

Sen. Durazo said she and members of the Latino Caucus are working to get the needed resources.

“Rest assured that Assemblymember Santiago and myself are working hard to get the resources,” Durazo said. “And we should be grateful to the federal government as well.

“We, the 29 members of the Latino Caucus, work so well with Governor Gavin Newsom to make sure that we get the resources we need. The number of people getting the coronavirus, the number of people dying from it was so unfair. More than 50% were Latino in cases and deaths. You here today are helping to stop people from dying in our communities.”

Santiago said when COVID hit, the underserved areas were the worst impacted because people didn’t have jobs.

“The people who did have jobs could not work from home,” he said. “They could not quarantine. They didn’t even have a car, so they took the bus. It makes sense that when you looked at our communities, this is where the hardest-hit area of COVID showed up. So when folks looked at a number and said, ‘It’s coming down.’ We all know those numbers are made up of valleys and peaks. And those valleys weren’t here, the peaks were here. So, even now when people are happy with things opening up, our community is seeing high contraction rates.”

Santiago said some communities are still seeing high death rates.

“We aren’t cheering and celebrating those numbers,” he said. “We’ve seen economic devastation in our neighborhoods. We’ve seen deaths that are unparalleled in California. We’ve seen the look of faces of despair.

“When it came to COVID testing, we were left behind,” Santiago added. “When it came to vaccines, we were left behind. When it came to economic support, it was left behind and we fought to turn that around. We have not seen the end of this in our neighborhoods.”

As a leadership member of LA’s Promise Zone and through active participation in the neighborhood’s arts, education, and community health coalitions, Heart of Los Angeles is collaborating with various community partners to ensure equitable vaccine distribution in the community. With high disparities in vaccine distribution for communities of color across California, the organization is working to ensure that race, class and citizenship status are not factors that prevent vaccine attainment.

Brown said as a trusted community organization, “HOLA will provide a familiar and welcoming environment for families to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations.”

Collin Hinds, a community coordinator, is credited with helping to organize the community partnerships that joined forces for the event.

“I helped connect everyone because I knew this issue was important,” Hinds said. “I went to Kedren and saw that there were resources for underserved members of the community that were being accessed by everybody but members of that community.

“When I saw that, I decided to contact some folks that I know. The bottom line is, this is important. All we’ve done collectively is put people together who could make this happen with qualified medical folks who are actually able to get the shots in arms. This is important to me because people are dying.”

A second vaccine clinic is scheduled to be held May 22 for residents who attended the April 24 event, to receive their second dose.

Heart of Los Angeles provides underserved youth with free, exceptional programs in academics, arts and athletics within a nurturing environment, empowering them to develop their potential, pursue their education and strengthen their communities.

Since COVID-19 hit last spring, Heart of Los Angeles’ Family Services Department provided more than $170,000 in direct aid for families, in addition to weekly grocery distribution, parent workshops, individual and group counseling services, emergency assistance and access to a wide array of community resources.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.